“And then a throb hits you on the left ide of the head so hard that your head bobs to the right…There’s no way that came from inside your head, you think. That’s no metaphysical crisis. God just punched you in the face.”
This description of a migraine headache by Andrew Levy in the book A Brain Wider Than the Sky: A Migraine Diary captures the dire agony of migraine. According to Mayo Clinic, migraine causes severe throbbing or pulsing pain, usually accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to light and sound. Migraine is a terribly painful disease that according to the Migraine Research Foundation, affects an astounding 38 million Americans and 1 billion people worldwide. In fact, migraine is the third most prevalent and sixth most debilitating disease in the world.
One of the most frustrating aspects of migraine is not knowing the definitive cause and therefore having no surefire cure. However, many migraine sufferers are aware of certain “triggers,” many of which are related to diet. In fact, The Cleveland Clinic names caffeine and alcohol, in addition to aged cheese, deli meats that contain nitrates, pickled foods, freshly baked breads, onions, avocados, and even some fresh fruits, like ripe bananas, citrus fruits, papaya, and kiwi as common migraine triggers.
Why and how certain foods lead to migraines has long been a mystery. Until now.
The Guardian recently reported a new and exciting study published in the medical journal mSystems, which found migraine sufferers have higher levels of gut bacteria involved in processing nitrates. Researchers explain when nitrates are broken down by bacteria in the mouth and stomach, the chemical is converted into nitric oxide in the blood stream. When nitric oxide is used to intentionally dilate blood vessels, as in cardiac interventions, it is not uncommon for patients to experience excruciating headaches. Given this new study, researchers now suspect nitric oxide is a direct cause of migraine.
For migraine sufferers, this new research may be monumental. According to researchers, the study has inspired some scientists to imagine the possibility of developing “a magical probiotic mouthwash” that would balance the gut bacteria and thus prevent migraines. But in the meantime, victims of migraine can take measures to cut down their nitrate consumption.
An article on the website for celebrity fitness guru Jillian Michaels identifies processed meats like hot dogs, bacon, ham, and sausage, as well as root vegetables like potatoes and carrots, as well as spinach, broccoli, and cauliflower as among the foods with the highest concentration of nitrates.
If you suffer from migraines, reduce your consumption of nitrates for 1 month and report back. SHARE this article on social media with a comment about how cutting back on nitrates affected you and your migraines.